Timo Lainema Simulates for Learning in Real Time | Episode 338

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Dr. Timo Lainema is the developer of RealGame, a unique real-time operated business simulation game for learning business and supply chain management, and many other business topics. Timo is an adjunct professor of educational sciences and game-based learning in Finnish universities, and an experienced trainer in executive education.

His present research of game-based teaching and learning focuses on conceptual change and correcting students’ false perceptions through simulation gaming. In addition, he has studied the management of time in simulation games, immersion and flow, business process understanding, and decision-making and leadership in game-based learning.

Presently, Timo works as the CEO of RealGame Business Simulations, a company providing active learning solutions for higher education and company training internationally.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Hey engagers, and welcome back to another episode of the Professor Game podcast. We have Teemo with us today. But Timo, before we actually go for the questions we need to know, are you prepared to engage?

Timo:
Yes.

Rob:
Let’s do this, because Doctor Timo Lainema is a developer of Real Game, a unique real time operated business simulation game for learning business and supply chain management and many other business topics. He’s an adjunct professor of educational sciences and game based learning in finnish universities and and he’s also an experienced trainer in executive education. His present research of game based teaching and learning focuses on conceptual change and correcting students false perceptions through simulation gaming. In addition, he has studied the management of time and simulation games, immersion and flow, business process understanding and decision making, and leadership in game based learning. And he works as the CEO of Realgame Business Simulations, a company providing active learning solutions for higher education and company training internationally.

Rob:
Timo, is there anything we need to know about you that we didn’t mention on that intro?

Timo:
I think that was quite extensive. So thank you.

Rob:
Thank you as well. And Timo, seeing all the things that you’ve done, all the research, the company that you have, people might think Teemo has everything figured out and you probably do. But we want to get to know a little bit more about Teemo. What does a regular day or week look like? If we were Timo, what would it feel like to be in your shoes?

Rob:
Essentially, yeah.

Timo:
Well, it is pretty diverse as we are a small organization, so I take part in almost all tasks in our organization with main focus on developing simulation game solutions and also onboarding of teachers to use our learning solutions. I was also in charge of real game programming for 20 years and I often still miss programming because of the feeling of solving a challenge with your own programming code. That’s very satisfying, something that you do not feel as easily. With the many other tasks I am working on today and at real chem, we develop game based learning solutions for teaching and learning business competencies and sustainability. These are skills and competencies which help students and employees in organizations to collaborate, perform better, to develop more fluent processes with less friction and waste, to make more mindful decisions, to utilize a more holistic understanding of operational dynamics, to make quicker decisions and analyses, and to better adapt to changes.

Timo:
And in addition, and most importantly, we offer students concrete skills for driving sustainability in their future work tasks. So my regular day involves a very diverse set of work tasks and things to consider in developing our game based learning environment.

Rob:
So it seems plenty of stuff going on in your world and Timo?

Timo:
Yeah, they’re working days. How long? I can assure you, absolutely.

Rob:
Business owners can have it pretty tough pretty often, especially in small organizations. I feel that happens even more in that sense, because you’re taking care of almost everything.

Timo:
Yes.

Rob:
It means that anything that goes wrong, it’s basically on you.

Timo:
Yeah.

Rob:
So, Timo, let’s humanize you even further. We’d like to know of a time when something didn’t go your way, a first attempt at learning or a fail moment. We want to be there with you. We want to hear that story, especially in this world of simulations, of gaming and learning. Again, we want to take away some lessons we want to learn from your story.

Rob:
What can you tell us in that sense?

Timo:
I have a pretty bad memory, so I cannot remember any clear failures. But I could tell you about a story about this kind of a breakthrough in thinking. So the idea behind real game came from creating a traditional business game. A long time ago, when I was still doing my master’s studies, my business school asked me and a fellow student to build a conventional turn based business simulation. And what we accomplished was pretty successful, and it was used in the business school for over ten years.

Timo:
But already when developing this game, I started thinking that turn based business simulations do not illustrate business processes realistically, nor the lapse of time as something that frames and affects and also restricts decision making in a company. So I think illustrating the flow of time is vital in simulation games because of the speed of change in modern business processes, and also because contemporary business management is about managing processes in real time. This is the real world environment for which realgame was built for. So I started thinking about creating a real time processed simulation game. In other words, a clock driven business simulation.

Timo:
And believe or not, when I started doing this, there were no other clock driven business simulations. Actually, I do not know about any other till today. So, real time processing would entail a simulation game where the game players would make decisions continuously, not in batches, and where the simulation would progress in time and process all decisions as clock advances and not as batches, describing the results in the end of a played period. So in traditional business simulations, the process is such that the players, they create a budget for the next year, and then this budget is given to the simulation model, to a black box. And then when the decisions are given, the simulation calculates the answers.

Timo:
And then you read the answers after the, you get the answers after the simulation. So it’s kind of a guessing game. And I didn’t like this idea. The grand idea behind real game was that it should be clock operated. I have to say that real time processing has proven to be a really meaningful way of setting up game based learning.

Timo:
It also is a concept that allows for teaching topics that are not possible to address with conventional business games. So real game provides an opportunity to illustrate business processes and their course. Ive dynamism because it’s not a black box, but you can see what happens in real time. And also real game provides transaction specific business data for analyzing business performance. It shows how various decisions and actions taken by the game players affect the company’s performance.

Timo:
And this is a really unique aspect in real game. And we also have an authentic business intelligence built upon the business simulation. Exactly because we have this transaction specific data upon which we can build really nice business graphics. So I would say that trying the conventional approach a long time ago confirmed me that a new take on business simulation games needs to be taken. So with this idea of real time processing, I enrolled as a doctoral student in 1997 and started building real game.

Timo:
And also the timing with starting real game development was ideal because at the time the first true object oriented programming environments with efficient database tools were introduced. I programmed real game with Ball and Delphi and that turned out to be an excellent choice as Delphi served our development work for 20 years. And I have to say that triage was kind of a breakthrough also in terms of the application of pc based local area networks and sharing resources over them, as at that time local area networks were rather unreliable and had capacity issues and applying a real time process simulation game as network gaming was rather a challenge, but it all worked out with remarkably good results. But so you were asking about failures.

Rob:
So I completely get it. I love how the story went because it ends up in the success, which is actually part of the next question we had. But before getting into that, I can.

Timo:
Still say something, but I don’t know if this is a failure, but we always need to balance between how to authentically illustrate real world business complexity and cost effects with simulation game while maintaining a suitable level of complexity and provide enjoyable gaming experiences. And I do have the tendency of leaning slightly too much towards complexity. But the good thing is that the good people in our organization are putting me back in line with this. So in the end it works quite nicely.

Rob:
Totally, totally. And you know, I have my views as well on how much of reality, how much not. And in the end at least, and I’m guessing that’s part of the lessons that you’ve seen throughout the years, it’s all about what helps improve the learning, right?

Timo:
Yeah, exactly.

Rob:
It becomes more real and more complex, but the learning is the same. Then why do you want to make it more complex? Right. I think that’s a difficulty there.

Timo:
Yeah, it’s difficult. Yeah, it is really difficult to balance because if it’s too simplistic, what do you learn? And if it’s too complex, then the learners are, like, frustrated. So you have to balance between these two aspects.

Rob:
And I think it’s the learners and the learning itself. I think it’s. I mean, there’s. I always like to use the example of the beer game, the one created by MIT. And so it was a physical game back in the day.

Rob:
It’s super simplistic. It’s super, super simplified. Most people that see it for the first time and are experts in the area say, ah, but you know, it’s lacking this and that. It should be showing this. It’s like, yeah, I understand where you’re coming from, but it is only and exclusively there to help teach the whiplash.

Timo:
Yeah, yeah, bullwhit. That’s it.

Rob:
And it’s brilliant for that. You know, there’s.

Timo:
Yeah, it is. Yes.

Rob:
So again, it depends on what you’re aiming for. But I had a question about what you were saying, because you said that you started out by doing something as everybody was doing it in the turn based sort of area, let’s call it. Right. Or what were the things that you observed? And you said, there’s something here that I want to look into.

Rob:
Like we would like to dive into a little bit deeper into that realization moment, because again, it was a failure in a way, because it didn’t work out as you could have worked out a lot better. But we want to sort of feel that moment and perhaps some of the insights you had in that moment that maybe that flicker that turned on and said, oh, this is actually a thing I can do, and I can do it actually very different from what everybody else is doing.

Timo:
Well, certainly I wasn’t the first one to get this idea, because when I did my thesis, doctoral thesis, I did, of course, I did have a literature view. So this idea pop ups every now and then. But I guess before the nineties, it was so difficult to realize that people had failed when they tried. And in a way also, I think one hindrance might be that real time programming is on a totally different skill level than this kind of a batch, processed realization. So it’s much more simple to build.

Timo:
And if we think about the people who construct business simulations, they mostly come from business schools, they don’t necessarily have that good programming skills, so that might be one problem there. But you were asking about when I got the idea that was already ten years before I started building real games. So it is so long ago that I cannot exactly remember how.

Rob:
Sure. Yeah. One of the things you were saying is what the moment build up into the programming was now sort of there. These things were now even possible where before it wasn’t really possible, as you were saying.

Timo:
Yeah.

Rob:
Doing that real time programming maybe was feasible, but really, really something that you could actually do and that it was actually possible. It was probably a big change that you had, you know, a change of times, so to speak. It was just the way things were.

Timo:
Yeah. Actually the oldest, you were one of.

Rob:
The few ones who actually did it and did it successfully. So that’s what I wanted to get to as well. What was maybe different about what you did that helped you really get there versus other people who maybe tried and didn’t really get there? How did that happen?

Timo:
Yeah, well, of course it was the tools. I had a strong programming background, even if I studied in the business school, but I studied information systems science, so we did program already during our studies, and I always liked programming. So I guess it was kind of a lucky accident that the skills met the idea in a way, how should I say?

Rob:
Yeah, that makes sense. Things happened. But again, you know, I love it. I love the fact that it got there and got that way. I’m sure you’re being a bit humble in that sense, but let’s leave it there.

Rob:
I think that’s a good story. There’s plenty to learn from that. Sometimes we do have to let just things happen as well. Right. Things are going to happen.

Rob:
We have to let them happen. We have to give them space. We have to give them time for those things to actually happen. And that’s also part of the things that we have to learn from your experience and other people’s experience as well.

Timo:
Exactly.

Rob:
So, Timo, you’ve talked about a success. I don’t know if there’s anything else you had sort of prepared, so to speak, about a success that you’ve had. But I actually wanted to dive into, you know, you also mentioned, and we’ve discussed that you not only have the real game simulation now, you’re also creating other simulations. So when you’re doing that, I’m guessing that you follow some form of a process or a series of steps, essentially. How do you do it when you are.

Rob:
You were about to create a new one, a new simulation, what do you do? How do you go about it? You know, what do you tell your clients or the potential users or investors? I don’t know. How does it go?

Timo:
I do not know if I have any clear processes. So if you would like to ask our people in our organization, they would say that I’m slightly, how would I put it? I’ve been notoriously agile in developing real game. But of course, now that we have a larger organization and development is a team effort, we have been forced to put some structure in the planning and development work, and that has been really painful for myself. So I guess that after 20 years of working in one manner, it’s quite challenging to change the way of working.

Timo:
But still, I would say that as an organization, we work in an extremely agile and very fast manner. Of course, this rapid application development and agile development, they are in a way, they are much more novel ideas than if you think about the history of real games. So that started earlier than these concepts became familiar to people. But I guess we have followed the agile.

Rob:
So when you say agile, I have a good notion. I think the audience has a pretty good notion of what agile means. But it is also true that different people have a different take, so to speak, on what agile means. So when you say agile, in your case, what does agile mean? What does it look like as a process for you?

Timo:
Yeah, for me it looks like it’s like you create something as soon as possible and then you start discussing how it works and then you improve it in cycles. So that’s my idea of it, simply perfect.

Rob:
And that first thing that you create, how do you go about it? How do you prioritize, you use rise framework, what do you go for?

Timo:
It’s kind of a timo framework. I guess I would have to go back 25 years. I did of course plan this structure of real gaming in a more structured way. I did have plans on paper, but nowadays we add narrower functionalities in the existing framework applications. It’s not that demanding anymore or that like, yeah, makes sense.

Rob:
It makes sense. So, Timo, if you were, you know, you were giving, let’s say you’re talking to an audience of people who are interested in games and simulations and gaming for learning, would there be a best practice, something that you say, well, do this thing. And of course, it’s not a silver bullet, it’s not that everything is going to work out perfectly, but it’s at least going to help you come up with something a little bit better than if you didn’t do it right. Is there again, a best practice or something along those lines that you could recommend this audience of the engagers, people who are again, looking at doing something probably in a different domain or in a different manner, but they’re probably looking at doing something relatively similar to what you’ve been achieving throughout all these years.

Timo:
Yeah, well, I don’t know whether this like answers to your question, but the longer I have applied simulation gaming, the better. I have recognized that the social dimension of gaming is utterly important. So it’s the team based collaboration and communication that allow for a space for developing and discussing ideas and perspectives with your peers. So I believe that learners need to articulate and defend their viewpoints to their teammates, and this leads to a deeper learning and understanding. So social dynamic would be a big one there.

Rob:
Definitely, yeah.

Timo:
Yeah.

Rob:
Makes total sense.

Timo:
Yeah. Of course, when you think about the real game, it is a business game, which most often they are like competition between simulation companies, between teams. And of course that’s also the case with the real game. But now, lately, I don’t think so. Like during the last decade, I feel that competition is not a must for learning and probably not even for creating motivation among the leaders.

Timo:
However, competition is best used to benchmark teams against other teams in the simulation. So that is, by looking at the game results, the learners can compare their team’s performance to the other teams and look for reasons for the other team’s performance. So then by analyzing how the other teams reach their results, you can understand how we can improve our own performance. So in a way, the social dimension of gaming and learning, that is quite important, I believe.

Rob:
Makes sense. Makes sense. Love it. Love your answer. Because it both recognizes, especially because it both recognizes the competition as a factor, which is there.

Rob:
It’s definitely there. It works. It works for many things, but then it’s also, it’s not just about the competition. That’s not all of it. I mean, it’s useful for some things, not so useful necessarily for absolutely everything.

Rob:
But it allows you, as you were saying, as a benchmark to see how you’re doing with respect to others, perhaps. And that can be a very interesting take. So thank you for that answer, Timo. And Timo, now that you’ve heard most, at least of the questions, you’ve been on the podcast. Now, when I made these questions, did you say, well, maybe this person that I look up to or not, or that I’m curious about what they’re doing, I would be interested in knowing how they’re approaching this or hearing them answering these questions.

Rob:
A feature guest for the Professor Gain podcast, so to speak. Does anybody come to your mind when I say this?

Timo:
Well, in a way I don’t know the gaming landscape because in a way I feel more like learning researcher. But if I think of like a piece of work that has been important to myself, and this is from the game based learning point of view, it would be interesting to know what the grand old system dynamics that around Peter sends things about the possibilities of modern gaming environments and how they would help in solving the present real world problems which are really severe.

Rob:
Hmm, interesting. I think I’ve heard somebody mention Peter Sanchez before, but it’s not one of those guests that you hear every two or three interviews. Here’s somebody that we’ve heard before. Peter Sench is a very interesting one for sure. And we have not had him on the podcast, that is for certain.

Timo:
Yes.

Rob:
Timo, what would you say is a good recommendation for the engagers to inspire themselves on a book? You know, what book would you recommend if you wanted to? Again, it can be directly related to simulation in gaming or something completely lateral that gives you inspiration. I don’t know. What would you go for?

Timo:
Yeah, that would be. Peter Sengi is the fifth discipline. So actually I’ve been thinking about this lately. So almost 35 years after its publication, it is actually getting more and more relevant if you consider the many wicked and ill structured problems in our societies and also in our natural environment, on a global level. So the fifth discipline, it encourages us to look at the dynamism in processes and not to fall to simplistic thinking on cause effects.

Timo:
And this is so relevant in so many different fields nowadays.

Rob:
Absolutely, absolutely. And as you were saying more and more, I can’t remember who the author was. And it’s not even a book I purchased or I had on my own. I found it in one of my family members library. And it was a japanese book.

Rob:
Well, the author was japanese. I found it in Spanish, I believe. Or English, I’m not entirely sure. But the thing that I took away from the book was the core principle, at least in my opinion, was, and again, this was written back in the eighties.

Timo:
Right?

Rob:
The book is from the eighties. And he was saying that in the future, work is going to be more and more human, right. So it’s going to be less about humans performing jobs that have to do with their physical movement of things or actually physically doing stuff, and more about their capacity to think, to reason, to be creative.

Timo:
Yep.

Rob:
This was 40 something years ago. You hear that now in the world of AI, and it’s like, I mean, I’m sure that the case studies that you showed and all that stuff is, makes no sense nowadays in that sense. But if you look at the core principles of the book, it’s more relevant than ever. So when you were mentioning the fifth discipline, it just reminded me of that. And there are people who are visionary lucky.

Rob:
I don’t think they can actually see the future itself. But you know that they’ve analyzed things as they’re going and they’ve reached this level of insight and have these things, and it’s amazing to revisit these classics in many ways.

Timo:
Yeah, I totally agree. So if you look up, if you think about scientific research, very often they require that you have the most recent references in your papers, but still there are some, like very central pieces that you need to read so that you understand how the development of that has been built upon these central pieces.

Rob:
And I don’t want to dive too deep into this. One of the things that students evaluate us on as professors and at least in most business schools and universities, is students evaluate you as a professor. And one of the items that always surprises me when I see it, and especially when I see the results, is the updatedness of the materials. And it’s like, well, yeah, I kind of get it depending on the subject and so on. But there are things which, you know, it doesn’t make sense to actually to update them because there’s nothing better at this point, essentially.

Rob:
Yeah, the knowledge is not necessarily advanced or it was advanced enough to what they got into this point. So just, it was just something that came to my mind. Timo, so totally agree with you. Like, you know, research with scientific research, with students, what they’re learning. It’s not just about the latest thing, but the actual, the best thing.

Rob:
I think the question has to be different. Which is the best reference anyways? Anyways, that’s not something that, at least at this point, we can change. I think the system is deep and profound in all of this.

Timo:
Yes, you are so right, Timo.

Rob:
In all these years of experience that you have, there are many things that you, I’m sure you do absolutely great and fantastically. What would you say is that thing that you do at least better than most other people? And this is definitely not a humble question.

Timo:
Well, of course, this is very a subjective answer, but I think it’s the ability to quite easily apply real world phenomena and decision making into a gaming context. But I cannot say more. So.

Rob:
I get it. I get it. And Timo, you know, you mentioned you’re not into the gaming sphere and so on. And of course, right next to real game and the stuff that you’ve created, what would you say is your favorite game?

Timo:
Well, you will be lucky.

Rob:
You can go back to board games, you can go back to sports.

Timo:
Yeah, certainly board games. But I’m actually not much of a game player myself. But Tetra is definitely something that it’s in a way the only computer game that has fascinated me over longer periods of time. Then I do remember that in the eighties I played with my brother, a Commodore 64 game called mule mule, and that was a multiplayer auction game. And now that I think of it, what made it so interesting must have been the multiplayer feature, which at that time, maybe around 1983, it must have been quite rare.

Timo:
But here we have the social aspect of that simulation as it was a multiplayer game. So maybe that was the fascinating thing. I have to say that I love playing real game, so I often notice that when I’m testing new features, I get immersed into playing real game for much longer periods that would be needed for the sake of just testing. And then other than computer games, Monopoly has always been a favorite. And during the last years, interesting.

Timo:
During the last ten years I have very much enjoyed playing ticket ride with my family, but lately they have started playing this more complex game called Wingspan. So that takes too long time. I cannot concentrate on that one. But I’m going to put you down.

Rob:
For Tetris as a favorite and I definitely will jot down all of the other ones that you’ve mentioned there. Mule, monopoly, ticket to ride, I mean you. No, I haven’t played it. I’m definitely going to look it up and given the current state of affairs, I am sure that there’s going to be a version that is playable outside.

Timo:
Of the company 64.

Rob:
Yeah, and probably going to test it out as well. Timor, is there anything that we haven’t asked you that you want to mention here before we end the interview? Of course, let us know where we can find out more about real game, about the work that Timo is making, the great work you’re making in this world. Again, before we finish the interview, I.

Timo:
Think that was kind of an all and it’s been quite nice to talk about these topics. So thank you for the possibility.

Rob:
Absolutely, absolutely. And where can we find out more about you about realgame? What are any call to actions that you may have?

Timo:
Yeah, well, you can always look at our webpages at www. Dot realgame Dot fi and you can reach me at Timo Lynemaealgame fi brilliant.

Rob:
Thank you very much. Because we know, especially after this interview and hearing what your days look like, we know you have a very busy schedule. In fact, I know it was on me that we pushed back the initial date. I had something I couldn’t move, and then we had to spend many weeks before getting to meet again because again, you have a very busy schedule. Thank you very much for taking the time to be here.

Rob:
Thank you.

Timo:
Thank you, Rob. This was really nice. And I had more time to figure out what I want to say. So that worked well.

Rob:
It worked out well. That’s the main thing. And it worked out well, essentially, because we’re here, we’re talking right now, and whomever is listening to this at this point knows that the interview went live and that they got all of this massive value that you were delivering, all of your insight, your knowledge, your experience that you’ve had throughout these years. However, Teemo and engagers, as you know, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers.

Rob:
Thank you for listening to the professor game podcast, and if you want more interviews with incredible guests, please go to professorgame.com subscribe and get started on our email list for free. We’ll be in contact. You’ll be the first to know of any of our opportunities that arise or that are already existing, and we will have them available just for you. Please remember, before you go onto your next mission, before you click continue, remember to follow or subscribe, whatever that looks like on your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of professor game. See you there.

End of transcription

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